Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday (November 4) to protest deployment of U.S. Osprey military aircraft to Okinawa. The Ospreys were deployed to the island last month in spite of local opposition after 2 crashes elsewhere.
The Tokyo protests are happening as anti-American sentiment is running high in Japan after two recent incidents. A U.S. airman was arrested for an alleged assault on a teenage boy in Okinawa. A recent Digital Journal report describes the incident in which a drunk U.S. airman allegedly assaulted a 13 year old boy after breaking into his home. The boy was asleep at the time. This incident happened after a curfew was imposed on the 52,000 U.S. troops deployed on the island. The curfew was imposed because of the arrest of two airmen for the alleged rape of a local woman. The protesters chanted: "Ospreys out! Marine Corps out!"
The Japanese government agreed to the deployment of the Ospreys just at a time when relations with China too are strained over claims to uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Over half of U.S. troops still stationed in Japan are on the island of Okinawa. After protests, a number of U.S. troops were supposed to be removed to Guam, now part of the United States, but as the appended video notes this still has not happened.
The U.S. maintains Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, and Naval installations on the island. The total area covered by these facilities comprises almost 18% of the total area of the island or 233 square kilometers. There are 26,000 troops manning the facility. There have been countless promises to prevent accidents, remedy noise pollution, and deal with crimes of U.S. troops serving on the island but events still continue.
In 1995 three U.S. troops gang-raped a 12 year old girl. In 2004 a helicopter clipped a building at the local university before crashing into a residential area. Fortunately, everyone escaped with their lives although the plane exploded and spread debris over a wide area.
The situation has been made worse by the growth of urban areas on Okinawa. At first, green fields, surrounded the airbases but now they are surrounded by urban sprawl with land priced at a premium. One base at Futenma is to be closed down and relocated in the north of the island but the process has been slow and there is opposition to the move in the area where the base is to be relocated.
The Osprey has had a number of problems and it has a troubled safety record. In the initial testing phase between 1991 and 2000, the plane had four crashes with 30 fatalities. Since becoming operational, it has also had three crashes, in Afghanistan in 2010, and Morocco in 2012, as well as during a training flight in Florida in June of this year.